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Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

poets vs. policymakers

Re: the poets

I went to the Boston Review site, to a symposium held in Spring, 2006 about exiting from Iraq. The symposium centered around an essay by Barry Posen, a war intellectual. There were replies from politicians and experts, like Senator Biden and Lawrence Korb. There was also a reply by Elliot Weinberg, a poet who has been writing about Iraq for the LRB. Unsurprisingly, to me, almost everything said by the politicians and the war intellectuals – for instance, their assurance that by late 2007 the U.S. was going to be pulling troops out of Iraq – has turned out to be wrong. Posen proposed what will be the Hilary Clinton policy, one of perpetual stationing of U.S. troops in the Middle East under cover of fictitious threats – for instance, the “threat” posed by Iran to Iraq:

“American military planners should be directed to develop “over the horizon” strategies for the defense of Iraq against conventional aggression. The United States should exploit its command of the sea, space, and air to develop credible threats against conventional aggressors. Its ability to mount devastating attacks from the air, in particular, has been demonstrated several times in the Persian Gulf since the 1991 war; Iraq can benefit from American carrier aviation, strategic bombers, and bases in the region. (Iraq may wish to maintain ready air bases to aid rapid reinforcement by American land-based aircraft, as Saudi Arabia did in the 1980s.) American intelligence agencies and the U.S. Special Operations Command should maintain relationships with their official and unofficial Iraqi counterparts among the Kurds, the Shia, and the Sunni to help them act in their own interests despite the meddling of neighboring states.

An interval of 18 months provides ample time for the United States to help the Iraqis complete the project of training and organizing an army capable of maintaining internal security. In effect, this means training Shia-dominated security forces capable of policing and defending Baghdad and Shia-majority areas to the south. (The Kurds already have functioning police and military forces.) The prospect of taking responsibility for their own security will surely focus the attention of Iraqi politicians—especially the Shiites. Because the United States will continue to be responsible for Iraq’s external defense after the withdrawal, and because the insurgents operate in small groups, it is not necessary to train an army capable of large-scale mechanized operations; infantry units fortified with small amounts of artillery and armor and capable of a limited repertoire of operations at the level of brigade, battalion, and company should prove sufficient. Such a force has not yet been created. But if Iraqis—especially the Shiites—are motivated by the knowledge that they will soon be on their own, they can achieve such a capability with a year’s hard work. Iraq is now full of individuals who have had some kind of military training or experience.”

The poet makes an irresponsible reply to this to do list with an irresponsible reminder that, actually, the United States doesn’t own Iraq or seem to have any intention of understanding Iraqis, making all to do lists so much D.C. garbage.

“Posen’s arguments are couched in terms of “American interests,” as though he were trying to persuade Republicans on their own grounds. This strikes me as a futile gesture, however noble. In the undoubting group-mind of the Bush junta, the United States isn’t going anywhere. It wants the bases and it wants the oil, particularly as its think-tank cohorts, not unrealistically, see the future as a long economic, possibly even military, war with China over vanishing resources. (By the way, Posen’s statement that “the interest of the United States in oil is not to control it in order to affect price or gain profit” may be theoretically true but is inapplicable to the Bush crowd.) Even if the Rapture were to come to Washington tomorrow and Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and all the rest were to ascend to the big War Room in the sky, we’d still be left with the Democrats, among whom not a single major figure has called for an immediate end to the occupation, and all of whom seem to be auditioning for an election-year remake of Clueless.

"This is an academic debate of imagined scenarios, but I don’t quite see how Posen’s “new strategy” is more realistic than any other. The idea of a loose federation of Kurdish, Sunni, and Shia semi-autonomies crashes on the rocks in Baghdad unless there is some sort of divided city on the model of Jerusalem or the former Berlin, which will only create more barriers, checkpoints, and tensions. (And what to do about Kirkuk?) It is unlikely that the Shia will allow the Sunnis to have their own army, and unlikely that the Shia will gather many recruits for the military and security forces when recruits have been precisely the targets of insurgent attacks. Moreover, the strategy envisions that these armies, after having been trained by the Americans—a dismal failure so far, but sure to succeed after “a year’s hard work”—would continue to “maintain relationships” with U.S. intelligence agencies and U.S. Special Operations Command, which in the future would somehow become more welcome than they are now. I find unconvincing the military threat from neighboring countries (excepting, of course, Turkey, if Kurdistan declares its independence) that the United States would police. The strategy tends to treat the three groups as monoliths and does not account for the many “Sushis” (mixed Sunni-Shia marriages), nor for the divisions and rivalries within each group, nor for the surprising temporary alliances between groups, such as Muqtada al-Sadr and the Sunnis in Fallujah, that are sure to occur. And Posen does not say a word about reconstruction.”

This has proven to be a much shrewder analysis of the real setpoints of the Bush administration than Posen gives. And Weinberger comes up with an on the fly scheme that would be much better, all the way around, for all parties, save the War Industry party in these here states:

“We need to stop thinking about U.S. interests—in the name of which the world is being bulldozed—and start thinking about human interests. There is no possibility of stability and peace in Iraq as long as the Americans are there. (And “Americans” means not only troops, but the tens of thousands of unregulated mercenaries and the corrupt legionnaires of the corporations that are pocketing billions for doing nothing.) In an ideal world, the United States would declare an immediate cease-fire—no more missions, no more leveling of cities like Fallujah and Ramadi in the futile attempt to “flush out” insurgents—and begin to dismantle the huge wall around the Green Zone and the endless checkpoints and barricades. This would be followed by an accelerated withdrawal of all American troops and the introduction of UN peacekeeping forces in the hope of warding off open civil war. Simultaneously, the withdrawal of all American corporations, with reconstruction projects turned over to nations not associated with the Coalition of the Willing, most obviously France, Germany, and China. (Given what is happening in China now, the Chinese could probably rebuild Iraq in ten minutes.)”

The only thing I’d disagree with is the corporation withdrawal – while as a moral move, this is irreproachable, in reality, you are never going to get Americans do anything without promising them candy. The ideal should approach the real insofar as America has to be part of ceasefire talks. The word “ceasefire” has still not passed the lips of any American politician of national repute – in fact, it is hardly even mentioned by the so called anti-war movement. General Petraeus has, however, hinted at it, and eventually it will either come or the American driven catastrophe will get infinitely worse, and not to the betterment of any American interest – even those of the WarIndustry. In the long run, they depend on the mass American delusion that we win all wars, and that all the wars we fight are moral. Not that the War Industry people give a shit about the long run, of course.


northanger said...

i think this is the first time i've ever heard anyone use the word "ceasefire" for the Iraq war.

Scruggs said...

There's no market for it. The anti-war faction supporting the next war and the last one, but not this one, finds concepts like that too coherent. As they're the ones that make most of the anti-war related noise, there's no call for a content provider.

My own question is, with whom and by whom might such a thing be arranged? The cruise missile left, the wingnuts, the magical liberalizers and the batshit jingos are intellectually incapable of understanding what gives insurgents legitimacy. So they have no idea who to talk to. They're like music industry execs, whose job qualifications consist entirely of a hatred for music. To listen to any of the saner realpolitick gurus would call for much more than an admission that mistakes were made. The Democrats in the more tepid anti-war fringes think it's clever to let Bush make things worse.

The cretins have won! They'll win next time too and the time after that.

roger said...

Ah, Mr. Scruggs, are you trying to say that you see the glass as half full?

Now, myself,I see the glass as empty. The cretins - the governing class - have naturally won - they are the winners by definition. But they have the small problem in that they are actually losing. If they were really winning to the extent you say, we would surely have been bombing Iran by now. The palpable desire of the Jolly Green Giant, Unka Sam, for Iranian blood is sniffable - fee fi fo fum - but it turns out that the Jolly Green Giant can just fuck himself for all he can do about his lovely little situation in Mesopotamia.

Now, it is true that when the winners lose, they get awful sore and cast about for some other country to make all democratic and shit. But - I'm not expecting a revolution anytime soon to get rid of these winners.

northanger said...

you guys got me thinking about Giant & Bremer's billions. Texas presidents &, um, Texas War Presidents. then i found this....

Ike, Now it is true that I believe this country is following a dangerous trend when it permits too great a degree of centralization of governmental functions. I oppose this—in some instances the fight is a rather desperate one. But to attain any success it is quite clear that the Federal government cannot avoid or escape responsibilities which the mass of the people firmly believe should be undertaken by it. The political processes of our country are such that if a rule of reason is not applied in this effort, we will lose everything—even to a possible and drastic change in the Constitution. This is what I mean by my constant insistence upon "moderation" in government. Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

roger said...

Ike sometimes had that hard style, didn't he? Why fuck around when you can just be clear.